Mahogany Opera Group announces London premiere of FOLIE à DEUX by Emily Hall

A tale of love and shared psychosis, presented as a staged production and concept album with music by Emily Hall, libretto by Sjón. 

London premiere: 6 & 7 June, Spitalfields Music Summer Festival.

Mahogany Opera Group presents a brand new work, Folie à Deux; a collaboration between award-winning British composer Emily Hall and Icelandic lyricist and writer Sjón. Folie à Deux will be directed by Frederic Wake-Walker, Artistic Director of Mahogany Opera Group. 

Insanity, electricity and love collide in a sonic voyage into the shared psychosis known as ‘folie à deux’, where a delusion is transmitted from one person to another. A woman is struggling to connect with her lover. Their idyllic life on a quiet hillside changes irrevocably as an electricity pylon is constructed outside their house. He starts to believe that the pylon has a special power over him: “If you listen, listen closely… it is saying such wonderful things…” His delusion passes on to his partner, and as the madness takes hold, sparks begin to fly. 

Emily Hall’s intricately crafted songs are woven together for two singers, an acoustic harp and a specially created electro-magnetic harp in this modern folk tale. This newly created instrument uses vibrating magnets to evoke an underlying electronic presence representing the pylon – the third character that presides over this story. Against a backdrop of responsive light and sound, the result is a hauntingly beautiful soundscape which takes its influences from many musical idioms ranging classical, jazz, pop and folk. 

Hall has teamed up with award-winning Icelandic lyricist, writer and long-time Björk collaborator, Sjón, to create the piece: “I wanted to write an opera with no recitative, so I wanted to work with a writer with a background in writing lyrics as well as drama and narrative. Sjón came up with the idea of The Pylon as the focus of the delusion; which felt seriously good because of all its sonic and visual possibilities.” 

Folie à Deux features the distinctive vocals of Swedish voice artist Sofia Jernberg. Her singing employs sounds and techniques which often contradict natural styles, and this has been central to the creation of the piece. Jernberg is recognised for her work across a wide musical spectrum, from modern jazz to contemporary classical music. Icelandic tenor Finnur Bjarnason joins Jernberg for the live performances of Folie à Deux. Bjarnason’s previous operatic work includes roles at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, English National Opera, The Netherlands Opera, and Komische Oper and Staatsoper in Berlin. The studio concept album, set for release at a later date, features British tenor Allan Clayton along with Jernberg. 

Folie à Deux sees the unveiling of the electro-magnetic harp; a brand new musical instrument especially created for the piece by sound designer David Sheppard of Sound Intermedia and instrument designer Jonathan Green. The catalyst for its creation was Hall’s desire to sonically recreate the underlying frequency of an electricity pylon, which no musical instrument could replicate. A traditional lever harp has been re-strung with metal guitar strings, generating a purely acoustic sound. The electronic element is incorporated via small electromagnetic transducers, one per string, that are controlled via a computer and bespoke amplifiers. Each string can be vibrated continuously producing pure sustained notes. To make this a playable instrument it is connected to a music keyboard or fader controller, which enables the harp to be performed dynamically. 

The theatrical production of Folie à Deux will also feature innovative lighting technology designed by Dan Large, which responds to the music and movements of the performers, operated by a single projector. Director Frederic Wake-Walker explains: “We’ve been developing this lighting technology for a couple of years now but this will be the first time we will use it in a show properly. We have been experimented with ‘playing’ the lights live, and the resulting interaction with the performers is very exciting.” 

The idea for the narrative was triggered by a conversation between composer Emily Hall and Dr Lisa Conlan, a Consultant Psychiatrist at London’s Maudsley Hospital, about a rare psychotic syndrome known as folie à deux - in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. Emily Hall explains: “I was very taken with the idea of folie à deux as it seemed to be an exaggeration of many real life relationships, where one half of the couple dominates the other.” 

Folie à Deux received its world premiere in Bergen, Norway in March as part of the Borealis Festival and debuted in Sweden at Stockholm’s Kulturhuset, also in March. It will receive its London premiere on 6 and 7 June at Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, where Emily Hall is one of the festival’s Associate Artist curators. Frederic Wake-Walker shares his feelings on the premiere: “This piece is very special to me personally, it’s the first work that I’ve commissioned as Artistic Director of Mahogany Opera Group – seeing that whole process come to fruition will be wonderful. It also makes a strong statement about the sort of work we will be making at Mahogany – bringing exceptional and varied people together, developing genuinely new and different ideas and speaking to audiences in an intimate and dynamic way.” 

Part staged performance, part concept album, Folie à Deux is a lyrical and intense investigation into love and loneliness within a relationship. 



Official Trailer: / Behind-the-scenes interviews with the artists: / Dr Lisa Conlan explains about the psychological condition, folie à deux: / Exclusive preview of the Electro-Magnetic Harp: For future exclusive video clips and UK tour dates as they are announced, visit:



Composer - Emily Hall / Librettist - Sjón / Director - Frederic Wake-Walker / Lighting Designer - Dan Large / Live Sound Design - Sound Intermedia / Electro-magnetic harp design and build - David Sheppard and Jonathan Green / Vocals - Sofia Jernberg and Finnur Bjarnason / Harp - Helen Sharp, Ruth Hall / Electro-magnetic harp - John-Paul Gandy.

6 June 2015, 6.00pm & 8.00pm / 7 June 2015, 4.00pm & 6.00pm

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA 

Tickets: £15 - £20. Book at or call 020 7377 1362. Part of Spitalfields Music Summer Festival 2015. 


About Mahogany Opera Group

Mahogany Opera Group is one of the UK’s leading opera companies specialising in contemporary and new work. Mahogany Opera Group create new opera in new ways, in different spaces and places throughout the UK and internationally, stretching the boundaries of what opera is and who it is for. They collaborate with established and emerging artists, drawing on a range of cultural influences, theatrical methods and art-forms and involve local communities in the creative process. Recent productions include: Gloria - A Pigtale, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, which was nominated for an Olivier Award and British Composer Award; American Lulu, Church Parables, which was a central part of the Britten Centenary Celebrations in 2013; Bow Down, The Lion’s Face and Street Scene, which won the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical 2008. Their work has toured extensively within the UK, Europe and New York. Forthcoming projects include a UK tour of Hans Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibár at the Southbank Centre and on tour, a Mindfulness opera by Rolf Hind at the Barbican and a new interactive telling of Rumplestitskin by Stephen Deazley for family audiences. The company is resident at King’s College London and works in collaboration with a wide range of venues, performing ensembles and non-arts partners.


About Emily Hall 

Much of Emily Hall's music is formed from close creative relationships with singers and writers. Her music is direct and transparent and takes as much from classical as it does from folk. She has written a trilogy of song cycles with author Toby Litt, about first love (Befalling), motherhood (Life Cycle) and death (Rest). Her award winning film-opera, The Nightingale and the Rose, was written for Streetwise Opera with filmmaker Gaelle Denis. Her first opera, Sante, was premiered at LSO St Luke's and described by Geoff Brown (The Times) as "a dynamic new opera worth everyone's time and hopes". She also has also written extensively for singers Mara Carlyle, Olivia Chaney, Lady Maisery and cellist Oliver Coates. 

In 2014, her WW1 centenary choral piece, Gastenboek, was premiered at Budapest Palace of Arts by the Hungarian Radio Choir and then performed at Cite de la Musique, Paris and The Sage, Gateshead. In 2013, Emily Hall received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists, in 2006 the Genesis Opera Prize and in 2005 the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Award. Emily Hall (b. 1978) lives in London. 


About Sjón 

Born in Reykjavik in 1962, Sjón is a celebrated Icelandic novelist. He won the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize for his novel The Blue Fox (the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize), and the novel From The Mouth Of The Whale was shortlisted for both the International IMAPC Dublin Literary Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His latest novel Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was, was awarded the 2013 Icelandic Literary Prize. His novels have been translated into thirty languages. Also a poet, librettist and lyricist, he has frequently worked with his countrywoman Björk, including writing songs for her most recent project, Biophilia. Together they received an Oscar nomination for their music for the Lars von Trier film, Dancer In The Dark. Sjón is president of the Icelandic PEN Centre and former chairman of the board of Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature. Sjón resides in Reykjavik with his wife and two children. 


About Frederic Wake-Walker 

With directing credits at Glyndebourne (La Finta Giardiniera, Die Zauberflöte), Buxton (Jephtha), Scottish Opera (three new commissions) and Opera North (Hansel and Gretel) under his belt, Frederic Wake-Walker is rapidly making a name for himself as an innovative director unafraid to rewrite the rules of contemporary opera. Other recent productions include Britten’s Church Parables in St Petersburg and at several UK festivals, Schoenberg’s Erwartung for the opening of the Snape Maltings Britten Studio, and Birtwistle’s Bow Down at Latitude Festival. ‘To say that Wake-Walker has the brightest, boldest mind among Britain’s younger directors is an understatement. His knack of energising top-drawer lead singers, those of student age, and schoolchildren alike marks him out as one of the most original and disciplined directors of our day’ - The Arts Desk, 2013.


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